Good morning. As my dear friends all around the world know, I usually don´t share my personal experiences and my hurt ego as it makes me feel I should be embarrassed now but this has gone much too far. So I was yesterday at one of those local, cambodian, restaurants. It all started right in front of the door. There was no door. It looked more like a under construction garage thing but they still kept their business running. Fair enough. Diligence has to be honored. The staff was just waving an hello from behind their bar and smiling excessively hinding the lack of welcoming manners. Maybe they were tired of hard work. Fair enough, I thought. Plastic chairs, brown. For a temporary solution does the job I guess. Sticky plastic table clothing. Not cleaned up proper after the last customers had left. I was introducing myself to the staff and asking where I am allowed to take a seat. They looked at me like I am speaking german or something. Don´t get me wrong, I don´t expect an international skilled stuff. Of course not. But at least english. I mean, their restaurant is right in the touristic center of this hot spot. They even have a TripAdvisor sticker behind their counter. But, fair enough. being able to choose is freedom right? So I seated myself. I asked for their special dish today. And again, the waiter, who I first had to identify myself as one as their work clothing must have been still at the print shop, smiled at me. He turned around and communicated with his colleagues in cambodian, a language which is totally not understandable for us, it sounds more like a secret language to be honest. And they all started to laugh. But the waiter immediately put them back in place recognizing I am still there. And waiting to be served and for an answer. He said, “Fish today.” What kind of? Fish? I mean there are many fishes in the river, lake, ocean, right? So I decided to play his game. Frankly, for a brief moment I thought about leaving but then I reminded myself I am not at home, I am in a backward country, so be open and give them a change to get their credit. I gestured with my hands opening a book and demanded clear but friendly, respectful I can even claim, “M-e-n-u.” He seemed to understand. I am here now quite a while already and I am quite good with alien cultures. I know how to construe their vocals meanwhile. Not that I am proud of, but I took the adventure. Even if it is quite challenging. I could of course also try to learn their language. Some terms and phrases. Sure. Easy. I mean but I decided it´s much more interesting, I would even go a stop further and say, it´s more tribal, closer to them and a complete different level of communication. Finally I expect more rewarding. And as I said, there it was, the menu. Well, it was more of a joke. All written in their language. Adding pictures to this series of ancient symbols – don´t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed today, when I visited some temples, I have seen similar there, but now at a restaurant, different story, different decade right – was random and for that just insulting. I didn´t even want to touch the laminated badly printed loose collection of dirty sticky sheets. But. Fair enough and at this point I accepted the challenge already. There was no point of leaving anymore. I decided to show them how open and welcoming we barangs, how they call people here in their language, are and proof them wrong. I don´t regard myself as missonary or somthing but as they always say, let´s learn from each other, so teaching needs patience right. So I refused the provided insolence with folded hands aloft my chest, which means here a super polite gesture of respect. Told you, I learned some things already. And it´s sometimes smarter to skirt the prank. That´s also acutally very buddhism. Anyway. It´s not about me here. So I decided to order their so well presented special dish of today, “Fish.” Haha. An obvious wink of a first achievement. A first strike. 1:0. So do your fish now, I thought. He seemed to understand already. I am impressed by the way how fast some of them pick up things. Also literally – just kidding, of course not, no, I am impressed by some of their skills and for example handcraft abilities. Amazing. You should see. Actually to be honest it makes me a bit jealous. We are already so spoilt by our progression, modern technology and maybe even more, by our civilization. So the waiter understood and I was giving him my wicked smile. And he smiled back. Where I come from you would have been maybe kicked out of the restaurant for this kind of behaviour, but not here, they just love this playful approach. Not all of them of course, I don´t want to generalize. But as I said, I have already a good feeling for this culture. I am actually very… let´s say intuitive when it comes to foreign countries, people from another world. The world is to me an iPad, haha. Well it´s basically true. How I travel nowadays, no more travel guides or books, too heavy anyway for my small backpack. Oh yes, travel light, best experience ever. Everyone should do this at least once in their life. Without any possession. Freedom. Pure freedom. But let´s not get off the waiter. So he left and I am sure it was “Thank you” what he said, with a humble bow and also a polite, respectful and sporting sneer in his smile. “I love travelling”, I remember exactly, this is what I thought at this moment. I love travelling for this precious moments. What an opportunity. And at the same time I feel the privilege. To be in this position, to see all this. I know other people at home they can´t. Kids for example. Or even worse, they are sick or some other serious issue. During I was waiting, he provided a glass of crushed ice, with a plastic straw. I know what you think now, but I do drink yes. My body assimilated already. I don´t drink the tap water though, but crushed ice, no problem. In the beginning, when I arrived here about 2 weeks ago, oh, I could tell you a toilet story. And it´s in my opinion more a matter of a mental approach. Another backpacker I met said to me once, “If you want to get sick, you will.” And she is right. Control your mind and you can reach everything. And I also think it is sort of impolite to reject an invitation. And it´s for free as well. Once they tried to charge me, but I that´s also one of the big advantages when you travel solo, there is always only one position on the bill – it´s stupid to give it a try then, right. And I always have my bottle of water with me, save in a very functional and selfmade bag, made of old rice bags. We do this back home since a while, reusing creative as much as possible, so I was happy to see they adopt and I rewarded it straight with buying it, of course not without bargaining haha. And I needed. It has nowadays here around 40 degree, so drinking is a must. Lots of NGOs help to build wells. There are still some areas where they don´t have water access, can you imagine. Different story, but just to let you know, there are organisation already here to take care of and doing amazing work. I couldn´t, which makes me a bit sad, but on the other hand everyone has strengths so back to the waiter. In Cambodia as I said lots of restaurants they offer tea for free. You get a glass with crushed ice and sometimes and more and more a straw made of bamboo. Another amazing thing. Wonder if the foreigner who invented that got his idea licensed or just gave it to Cambodia. I haven´t seen it somewhere else so far and you know I have backpacked some countries already. Mostly it is more water than tea, but hey for free, you shouldn´t expect coconut juice even it grows here everywhere. Thinking about now, I am sure the waiter was testing my limits at this point already. If I drink or do it like the tourist way, avoid. I can understand, some people are just not ready for this lifestyle. Also something I am grateful about, my flexibility when it comes to new challenges – and my body is in control, remember. It was getting busier in the restaurant. Mostly tourists. It is always the same, if there is a barang sitting in a restaurant already, it attracts others. They feel safer and more encouraged to take a risk. Which is beautiful I think. Also a point why I like to choose local restaurants and support their efforts. Back home I am doing the same, support local businesses, so why not do it here. Even though it means you have to wait longer. More time to have some exchange with tourists. There are alawys things to share, places they haven´t seen yet, things they haven´t done yet or worse they did but don´t know how to do it the right way. And they always appreciate. And with some if them you might end up for a beer in a bar. Travelling. You have no idea what you miss my friends back home. So I had a chat with my table neighbours. Can´t remember them exactly though. There are so many impressions, faces and chit-chats, impossible to remember them all. The even got their food first. Just means the special of today is fresh and for that of course takes a while. Of course I didn´t tell them, they would have felt for sure awkward, starting to question why their dish didn´t take longer then a couple of minutes. Sometimes silence is gold – and superyummy. And it was. When the waiter left the kitchen and getting closer my table, my neighbours bursted into a mutual expression of admiration. I can´t resist a feeling of exclusiveness in this moments, I admit, but hey, I travelled hard for this haha. Now I could feel the growing bond between me and the waiter. He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder, physical contact is very important here, even though there are again some rules you have to assimilate first of course. Different story. So many stories, I am sorry for my loops, but it´s hard to narrate with all this crossing adventurous experiences in my head. He treated me like a regular. And to be honest, I felt already like one. He could feel for sure I am not one of them. I have seen different things. Most of tourist would have avoided the place just because they are not ready yet on the outside, but that fish, the presentation, a parade for all marching soon down my throat. And then it happened. Power cut. Instating uproar. The tourists were getting nervous. My neighbours have been just arrived 5 days ago, so they were of course not prepared, but this actually happens all the time here. It´s crazy and again a thing you have to accept and deal with. Et voila! Here are the candles. Before the uproar could turn into concern, the staff already distributed candles on each table and the place turned into an even more romantic and exotic place. I was happy for them to experience this impact of a backward country, where of course also the technology and logistics are not something you can install in a couple of years. You have to understand more to understand it the right way. My neighbours adjusted to the new situation pretty quick and it didn´t seem a problem at all anymore. After 5 days only. Respect. And to be fair, I didn´t really care, I was in love with my special of today. Excellent. Worth every minute I was waiting for. But before you think now everything here is paradise… there is always a bummer. Not always and not everywhere. So I finished my plate, licked my fingers, promoted this piece of deliciousness over and over again, asked for the bill which this waiter dared to hand over with one of his smiles, turning out nothing then fake. Lots of things are fake and you can travel for years and there will be always a fake you would have not expected there. I want to be honest with you, backpacking isn´t that easy as you might think and not always beach and palm trees. You need to stand sometimes. And this is what I did. I encountered them heartily and with all my respect and this is what I get? A 12 dollar bill for a fish? Which was by the way I think a Red Snapper. I first of course asked the waiter polite, because mistakes can happen, to recheck the bill. He smiled, let, came back and it turned out he forgot to charge me for the rice extra and for the tea – a tea just to remind you, I never ordered and has to be for free anyway. So in total 15,50$, which was just hilarious. I do know the local prices and the principle of bargaining and a bit of a barang bonus on top is completely acceptable, but this was just rude and disrespectful, ruining the whole special of today treat. It made me instantly sad, disappointed and angry. I on top brought them customers, which is of course no deal at all, but if they want to play on this shabby level, ok, let´s do it. I am ready for. And I was. I decided I am not going to loose my face in front of my barang mates and not to myself. So I smiled, put a five dollar note on the table, which is a fair local price, stood up, folded my hands, bowed, turned around and left. The waiter was first that baffled that he didn´t react at all. He might have not expected such courage. He thought I am one of them, a tourist, who doesn´t know it better and will be happy to pay as he will compare the price to back home and still floating in culinary dreamland. He was very mistaken! Of course he followed me, tried to stop me, yelled at me, “… police…police!” This is all I understood. I was just walking away, saying nothing, he wouldn´t have understood it anyway and calling the police was not an option, I know that, they would end up with more trouble then they have already. I was and I am still glad I didn´t go the easy way. This is not tolerable. I am barang and I will always be, because I am white. I accept that. But I am not stupid. And I want to share this experience. I don´t mean to blame someone. This is jsut my experience, but if you go there, just remember, I warned you. I attach a map so you can download the location as it is not on google, too local. Sometimes I appreciate social media. I am usually not a big fan but for this kind of behaviour, it totally makes sense. Feel free to share this, the more people know, the better it is.
(inspired by the Facebook group “Expats and locals living in Siem Reap”)